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Orthodox Easter

Orthodox Easter 2017 and 2018

YearDateDayHoliday
201716 AprSunOrthodox Easter
17 AprMonOrthodox Easter Monday
20188 AprSunOrthodox Easter
9 AprMonOrthodox Easter Monday

Although Ukraine was long a part of the Russian Empire, it does, in fact, have a history of its own going back more than 1,000 years, and its people are distinct both ethnically and linguistically. Ukraine lies in eastern Europe, and is situated directly north of the Black Sea and between Russia to its east and Poland to its west.

During its time under Soviet rule, religion, including Ukrainian Easter traditions, were forcibly suppressed. Since independence in 1991, however, there has been a resurgence of old cultural traditions. A 2006 survey found that 75 percent of Ukrainians believe in the existence of God, though only 37 percent attend church services regularly. Most of Ukraine’s 44 million people are adherents of the Eastern Orthodox church, though there are also small numbers of Catholics, Muslims, and followers of Judaism.

Although all of Ukraine’s many, long-kept Easter traditions are not observed by all Ukrainians today, there are many who still do keep them, including many expatriate Ukrainians living around the globe. While the degree to which each tradition noted below is still followed varies, these are the main folk traditions of a Ukrainian Easter, which in Ukraine is known as “Velykden” (the Great Day).

In Ukraine, Holy Week is known as the Great Week and begins on Palm Sunday, which is also called “Willow Sunday”. Pussywillow twigs are blessed at church, and then people touch one another with this branches to bring good luck, saying, “Be tall as a willow, healthy as water, and rich as is the earth.” Some also use these pussywillows as “gentle cattle prods” for the first springtime visit to a pasture. Once in the pasture, the branch is stuck into the earth to bring good luck.

On Maundy Thursday, the devout attend passion services and work is traditionally forbidden. The people go to church to hold candles and return home with them still lit. In eastern Ukraine, it is believed by many that the dead meet together with the living in these passion services to hear the liturgy read.

In much of Ukraine, the “cult of the dead” is strongly observed, and no time more strongly than during the Great Week. The week following Easter is also associated with this cult and is called “the Week of the Nymphs.” On the first Sunday after Easter Sunday, people gather in church cemeteries to eat food and wine, but they leave the excess behind on the grave sites for the dead to eat.

Orthodox Easter Traditions

Easter eggs are a tradition Ukraine has in common with most Western nations, but here, they are frequently used as gift items, and exchanging Easter eggs is associated with deep affection. The eggs also enter into traditional rituals. For example, they are laid on graves or buried and then given away as gifts to the poor on the following day. In Western Ukraine, Easter egg shells are placed in water, which is then used to sprinkle people with on Easter Monday (“Wet Monday”). It is normally boys who sprinkle girls with such water.

On Good Friday, again, it is tradition for no work to be done. In some places in Ukraine, along with a Good Friday service, a “Holy Shroud” is carried thrice around the church building and publicly laid out to be venerated. This shroud represents the burial cloth in which Christ was wrapped but that he passed through and left behind when he arose. When John and Peter entered the empty tomb on Easter Morning, this shroud was neatly folded and served as great evidence of Christ’s Resurrection.

Easter has both pagan and Christina roots in Ukraine, and it is considered a time of joy at the arrival of spring as well as at the news of the Resurrection of Christ. Considering the long, harsh winter Ukrainians endure, it is not surprising that spring is a time of great celebration, and the fact that Ukraine is the “Bread Basket of Europe” explains why many Easter/spring traditions are related to agriculture. There are diverse rituals for this time involving remembering the dead, marriage, and farming, and there are many traditional performances with folk songs and dances.

Easter Sunday itself is a time for joy and feasting. The whole community celebrates. Bells ring aloud, and songs of spring are sung. In church, it is a day of “high liturgy,” and pasky (Easter bread), decorated Easter eggs, and a whole Easter meal are ceremonially blessed and put into baskets for the congregants to carry home. This meal may include such things as cheeses, roast piglets, smoked meats and sausages, butter and lard, and small napkins full of poppy seeds, horseradish, and other condiments. After exchanging traditional Easter greetings with other congregants, the faithful rush home to enjoy their Easter baskets.

In east Ukraine, the the eldest family member opens up the basket, lays the food on the table, slices it, and distributes it to the others along with some unleavened bread. In west Ukraine, the congregants proceed to walk thrice around their homes and then distribute some Easter morsels to the animals. They throw salt in the manger, speak Easter blessings to the bees, and finally, go in their houses open their Easter food items over their children’s heads. Afterwards, they sit and eat, breaking the long pre-Easter fast.

Events

Some events those visiting Ukraine around Easter time may wish to attend include the following:

  • A traditional Ukrainian Easter service can be seen in many parts of Kiev at famous churches, including: St. Volodymyr’s Cathedral, St. Sophia’s Cathedral, Kiev Pechersk Lavra, St. Andrew’s Church, and Kyrylivska Church. Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday are the main times to attend, but there may be “standing room only” since these events are very popular.
  • An Easter egg fair is held in the Kiev Expocenter early each April, where you can taste Ukrainian Easter food, buy handicrafts and other souvenirs, see blacksmiths and other artisans at work, and give your kids a chance to take decorate Ukrainian Easter eggs, weave baskets, and take part in competitions.
  • Kiev also has an abundance of open-air museums open at Easter time, which give you a chance to enjoy the spring weather while learning of Ukrainian culture. Some of the most notable of these museums are: Marrinski Park and Palace, The World War II Museum, and the Pirogovo Ukrainian Folk-Art Museum.

By visiting Ukraine during Easter time, you will see many time-honored Easter traditions in action, and the experience will be both religious and cultural in nature. Book your flight early, however, since Easter is a busy time for travel.